Marin Shakespeare Company
Jul. 6–Aug. 12
King John gets a bad rap. He’s best known today as one of the bad guys in “Robin Hood,” taxing the peasants mercilessly and squatting on the throne while his brother Richard the Lionheart was off fighting in the Crusades. But those taxes were to pay for the wars of King Richard, who spent almost no time in England and spoke no English. John’s reign was a troubled one, marked by loss of lands in war with France, open rebellion among his nobles and eventually civil war, with the Magna Carta written along the way in an unsuccessful attempt to make peace. “King John” is one of William Shakespeare’s more neglected works, so it’s a treat to see Marin Shakespeare Company take it on. (The much-maligned monarch has been seen on the company’s outdoor stage as a character before, in 1997’s “Robin Hood.”) When Shakespeare festivals so frequently fall back on the same handful of popular favorites (playing in rep with “King John” is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), it’s heartening to see Marin Shakes taking a chance on more challenging fare. Scott Coopwood plays a king beset by attacks from France, the church and the English nobility in this tangled history play directed by Lesley Currier. Visit marinshakespeare.org.
Sam’s Other Picks
San Francisco’s Thrillpeddlers deal in decadence, whether it’s the gory Grand Guignol that they made a name for themselves with or the campy drag revivals of old Cockettes musicals that have become long-running hits for the company. And there are few more decadent plays than Peter Weiss’s “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.” Usually abbreviated “Marat/Sade,” this 1963 play in verse is exactly what the title indicates: a tale of the assassination of one of the leaders of the French Revolution, performed not long after the revolution by the inmates of a madhouse, led by a deposed nobleman who not only exemplified the aristocratic decadence the people rose up against but also had such a fetish for sexual cruelty that his name became forever synonymous with it. As you might imagine, havoc ensues. Visit thrillpeddlers.com.
Ray of Light Theatre
Jul. 13–Aug. 11
Stephen Sondheim has created many superb musicals, but “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is his masterpiece. Based on a Christopher Bond play that was itself adapted from an 1840s “penny dreadful” thriller, “Sweeney” concerns the perfect partnership between a vengeance-obsessed serial-killer barber (our hero) and the woman who runs the meat-pie shop downstairs. Hugh Wheeler’s script is chilling and witty, often at the same time, and Sondheim’s songs are spine-tinglingly magnificent. Ray of Light Theatre does dabble in lighter fare from time to time (its last show was “The Full Monty”), but its taste for the perverse has given us delightful productions of “Tommy,” “Jerry Springer: The Opera” and Sondheim’s “Assassins,” so I can’t wait to see what delights it’s cooked up with “Sweeney.” Visit rayoflighttheatre.com.
One-Man Lord of the Rings
San Jose Repertory Theatre
Self-styled “professional geek” Charles Ross may be best known for his “One-Man Star Wars Trilogy” that he’s been touring since 2001, in which he plays all the characters and zooms through the story of the original trilogy in 75 minutes, with Lucasfilm’s blessing. And if that doesn’t already sound like the best job in the world, he gets to ignore the prequels. San Jose Rep hosted that show last summer, and now brings Ross back with his “One-Man Lord of the Rings.” This one’s been in his repertoire since 2004, but for several years he had to shelve it because the stage rights to that particular trilogy were tied up with a big-budget musical boondoggle. Now the coast is clear again for Ross’s leaner, 70-minute solo take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal fantasy epic that only took filmmaker Peter Jackson 11-plus hours to capture onscreen. Visit sjrep.com.
Sam Hurwitt is editor-in-chief for Theatre Bay Area. He is also the author of The Idiolect, a blog about theatre, movies, comics, media and the decline and fall of Western civilization. E-mail email@example.com.
Scott Coopwood as King John.
Photo: Eric Chazankin
Sam’s Editor’s Picks